seeing is Believing!
The built-in accessibility features of iOS, along with thousands of apps,
make iDevices an education equalizer for students with visual impairments.
$7,500. And yet, when I arrived on
campus, I still could not read my
textbooks well enough to keep up or
see the board in my classes. I had to
hire readers and note takers to help
PhotograPhy: Joel Phifer
in 1980, my parents bought me my first closed-circuit television (CCTV). This low-vision technology was essentially a monitor with
a camera positioned directly underneath so that a person with a vision
impairment, like myself, could place
reading material under the camera
and display an enlarged image of
the text on the screen. A turn of the
magnification knob would enlarge
While this was—and still is—a
valuable tool for many people with
low vision, a desktop video magnifier is cumbersome to control if you
are reading for long periods of time.
And, like most accessibility tools, it
carried a hefty price tag—$2,000–
$4,000—which is still true today.
In 1987, I got my first computer.
As I recall, it was something like a
286 DOS IBM clone. The price was
about $2,500. But I couldn’t actually
use this machine without special software and hardware
that would enlarge the view so that I could see what I was
typing. At that time, the only option for PC users was
custom installation of a system called Vista (not to be confused with the Windows operating system). It also came
with a mouse—long before a mouse was ever used with a
PC—that controlled the zoom window. Those extras cost
another $2,000. Ultimately, my parents spent nearly $5,000
so I could do basic word processing.
So let’s do the math: I went off to college with an enormous IBM clone, a Vista enlargement system so I could
access my enormous IBM clone, and a CCTV that had a
screen no larger than an iPad. The total cost was nearly
Leveling the Playing Field
Accessibility has always been expensive. The extra cost that a person who is visually impaired must
incur to access mainstream technology is known as “the blindness
tax.” Screen magnification software
and screen readers fall into this category. And the cost increases with
each update of the computer’s operating system.
But things are beginning to
change. Today, I can check my
email, read and send a text message,
map a restaurant, peruse an attach-
ed document, update my status on
Facebook, play music, read a book,
Most would agree that iOS technology is downright
cool. But it’s more than cool for a person with a visual
impairment—it’s accessibility built right in.
At first glance, an iOS device, such as an iPhone or iPad,
doesn’t appear to be an appropriate tool for the blind. It
has only a few physical buttons, and it seems to make sense
only for someone with full sight. However, features such
as Zoom and VoiceOver and compatibility with braille
displays have made iDevices accessible right out of the
box to people who are blind or visually impaired.